First Love Review

Rowntree Park, York – until Saturday 22 August 2020

Reviewed by Michelle Richardson


Park Bench Theatre bring live theatre back to York with an outdoor season of three monologues for all ages in the city’s Rowntree Park from 12th August to 5th September. The productions are presented in carefully laid out in spacious gardens, already marked out in bubbles, allowing the audience to keep socially distanced.

After five long months I was excited to be given the opportunity to finally be able to see a live show, in the flesh. First Love, by Samuel Beckett, directed by Matt Aston, is the first of the three shows being performed at Rowntree Park.

After parking the car in our usual spot, we set out for a lovely walk down by the river, armed with camping chairs over our shoulders I wasn’t too sure where I was going, good job I had Marcus with me, otherwise I would have ended up on the wrong side of the river. Once we got to the park, we found their car park still had plenty of spaces left, I enjoyed the walk more. The venue was easy to find with directions in place, and then volunteers were on hand to guide you. On entering the secluded garden, which had separate entrance and exit areas,
we picked up our receivers and earphones, you can take your own, to hear the one-man performance, and set up in our own bubble. It was great to see blankets laid out, people enjoying their picnics and just chatting away. Make sure you take an extra layer of clothing, as you are at the mercy of the elements.

A nameless man, dressed in a black bowler hat and an oversized trench coat, giving the appearance of a man who has led a burdensome life, enters the garden. As he approaches the park bench, he starts to re-count his story. The whole show is performed on or around this park bench.

It’s a tale about, how after his father’s death he is made homeless, sleeping on a park bench. It is on this park bench where he meets Lulu, or Anna, he can’t quite make up his mind what to call her. She comforts him by first stroking his ankles and a “love story” begins. Though his feelings are conflicted and he is disturbed by them, he still moves in with her, occupying a room, after clearing all the furniture out and piling it up in the corridor. She manages to slip into his bed and they conceive a child. He discovers that she works occasionally as a
prostitute, only wishing that she would not make so much noise. Once she gives birth and as the baby cries, he puts on his coat and hat and abandons them both.

I must admit I’m not a big fan of monologue pieces, and though I found his character utterly loathsome, with no redeeming quality, Chris Hannon showcased his ability, not to only perform outside, but on his own, a daunting prospect to us lessor folks. He managed to engage the audience for the whole 60 minutes.

Be warned, there are times that very strong language is used.

It was great to see some live theatre, theatre is suffering horrendously at the moment. Hopefully, this is the start of the end of those difficulties, we can dream. Theatre needs as much support as it can and I’m looking forward to seeing the next show later on this month.